27 June 2006

Heavy Clouds, Some Rain...

Originally uploaded by susiewrites.
"And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise." ~ Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks' character in "Castaway").

I've spilled a few tears these past few days and I think I probably have a fairly legitimate reason. It would be pointless to sit here and type any details, besides, I am still walking that fine line between surrealism and reality and I know that soon I will have both feet firmly planted on the side of reality because that's where we live; I am making my way there and I know that eventually, this fog is going to clear.

As you may have already guessed (or heard), this is my awkward, clumsy way of saying that my marriage is over. For those of you who are cringing because you have recently sent me E-mails or left messages to the effect of, "Wow, you have an anniversary coming up! Can you believe it's almost been a whole year??", it's really OK. Of course you didn't know.

When the kids were small and more accident-prone, no matter how much blood I saw or how many stitches were required to be sewn in the forehead or finger of my wriggling little child who sounded as if s/he were part of an animal sacrifice, just as panic was about to take over and I felt as if I might crumble, I would stop and remind myself that what was happening wasn't terminal or life-threatening - and that even those deep, scary-looking gashes would eventually heal with time - and a few tubes of Neosporin. It was my way of telling myself that whoever was the central player in the latest childhood mishap, would probably bleed, may swell and that pain was probably unavoidable - but they would survive and live to get themselves in another jam, thereby offering the chance to shave a few more years off my life.

And it is true, as painful and heart-breaking as this is, we will live. We will live well. I buy into that quote about pain being unavoidable and that misery is optional. I have absolutely no interest in taking out an option on misery.

Perhaps one reason to post this unfortunate news is because actually writing the words demand that I begin to accept and believe it. Another reason I feel it necessary to post this announcement is because, as I mentioned, what would have been my first year wedding anniversary, 16 July, is less than three weeks away. OK, so there will be no celebrations, no weekend trip, no special dinner and rather than smiles, I'm sure that day will be just plain hard. How could it possibly be otherwise? The only request I will make that day, as I spend it with my family, is that we have no picnics around Fort Fisher.

Since this is pretty fresh news, I don't quite know how to write much of anything because I am still embedded in the inevitable, disorienting torrent of feelings and emotions and I'm sure many moments during the day I must be affecting a "deer in the headlights" expression on my face. It is sinking in slowly and, little by little, I understand that what is happening really is, in fact, happening. It's going to take a little time for me to get acclimated to this new, unexpected and unwelcome turn of events, but I'll get there.

I'm sure I will be writing more as I work through this period of adjustment. It goes without saying that this isn't an easy or particularly fun time for anyone in my immediate family. But just as families do - we are there for each other and my cell phone is staying busy - just another reason to be thankful for Alltel's "free mobile to mobile" service.

Connectivity is essential just now because there is such an inclination toward isolation, which is the last thing I need. Justin is demanding that I go on "errands" and steadily through the day, he does a "Mom Check". This past Sunday evening we sat in my office the entire night, crying, laughing, crying some more, lots of hugs and somehow he offered me just the right words, at just the right time. Stephanie then stepped in and forced me to eat way too many M & M's and also offered her support, along with a determination to try and divert my attention. Sweet Stephanie - what a wonderful addition she has been to our home. I grow to respect this young lady just a little more every day I am around her. Justin has very discerning taste and I think Stephanie is amazing.

Though Katie is a few hundred miles away in NYC she, too, has sent me her love and good thoughts via cell phone and E-mail, and some pretty absurd and crazy"Katie-sardonic" text messages that have forced me to giggle, as only Katie can do. Katie, I can't wait to see you and I know we're not huggy people, but gosh I want a hug from you, and then I'll sit down and obediently listen to your take on the direction my life should go. :-)

My mother is doing what she does best - cooking great food and "gently" demanding that I eat something more than chocolate. My Dad appears at just the right time and always has something wise and wry to share. What a great family I have!! What a blessed woman I am.

The one thing my family, every last one of them, have taught me, is that you can lose your patience, your attention, your thoughts, your keys and even your mind, every now and again, but you can't ever allow your sense of humor to disappear because then, you are truly in dire straits. It is almost as essential as oxygen is for my survival, and I can't imagine losing my ability to smile or laugh. What a gift it is to be able to do that, especially when things get tough. I get stressed when I'm around people who are way too serious. If I had not heard a lot of laughter in that first AA meeting I attended 2 1/2 years ago, I don't know that I would have ever hit another meeting. I know that if I allow myself to get too serious, life feels way too tedious. I refuse to let that go. That's not to say that I don't cry, and that's a wonderful release, but I almost reflexively search out something to balance the scales, because that keeps my keel even.

For now, I just want to say a special, heartfelt thank you to my incredibly supportive parents, my two amazing kids, Katie and Justin (I love you both sooooo much), and my precious cadre of friends who elicit smiles from me even when it feels impossible, and who have steady shoulders and understanding embraces.

I could not imagine navigating this difficult course without the special angels in my life and I swear I have been blessed with more than my fair share of cheerleaders and so very many guardian angels.

I know that my family and I will come out on the other side stronger, wiser and even closer, if that is possible. I will write more soon.

The last line of the afore-referenced quote is equally wonderful and gently optimistic, "Who knows what the tide could bring in?"

I trade in the currency of hope and I expect great things. I believe in it.

With so much gratitude and love,


18 June 2006

To The Finest Father I Know...

[Editors Note: I may have taken the tiniest bit of creative license here and there, because sometimes you have to do that - even with the colorful subject matter that I discuss today. But the good things I write of below, required no embellishment and, if anything, I fall short of capturing the real character that is Barbe Cook and, before I get a lot of E-mails asking the same question, I wasn't even paid to write this! :-) ]

It's Father's Day. Though you'd never imagine it from the length of most of my blog entries, I never feel like I have enough available material from which to fashion a new entry. Let me just state for the record - the challenge with this particular post isn't that there's some shortage of information, history and photographic imagery from which to choose my words and pictures. The challenge is in coming close to doing justice to my topic du jour. My father. No, the word "father" feels too formal for the man I write of this day. It may be listed on the calendar as "Father's Day", but it's all about my Daddy.

As you can see, there was a time in his life when he looked fairly normal and his physical exterior belies the true character that inhabits his lithe figure. Don't let it fool you. When this photo was snapped, my Daddy wasn't yet a Dad at all. He was just starting out and though I'm not certain what year this photograph was taken, I am certain he wasn't yet married to my mother, but it couldn't have been too far removed from that magical matrimonial date of July 3rd.

In fact, these may have been the last months of what could be accurately labeled the "boring" phase of his life...i.e., pre-marriage/pre-kids/pre-ME! Oh, things were going to get really interesting in a big way for this innocent, unsuspecting, handsome guy, striking a dashing visage - and little would anyone guess that he would be right in the middle of the craziness. The sun to everyone else's planet and well, for me anyway, pretty much the center of my universe - one of two people (the other being my Mom) who I can honestly say have hearts of pure gold - the pair responsible for whatever goodness there is in me. I don't come close to making the mark, but I am intent on continuing to make the attempt toward that mark - it is, as they say, all about progress, not perfection.
Some people don't realize this, but I am not an only child - even though I digress to "only child" tendencies now and again.

My sister, Becky, beat me out of the starting gate by about ten years. She was born in 1950 and so I guess you could say she was their "practice" child and how lucky for them it was her and not me because, I have a sneaking suspicion that had I been their first, I would probably have been their last! I'm pretty certain that's why God gave them Becky, thereby lulling them into a false sense of security and allowing them to believe that raising kids really was "that" easy. Oh...were they ever duped! Ten years later, it would be a whole new ballgame with a new batter on board.

For ten glorious years, their lives were probably calm, fairly predictable and life probably clicked along in a "Leave it to Beaver" sort of way. From what I hear, Becky didn't buck bedtime, wasn't a night owl, didn't suffer from colic and as far as I know, she never threatened a nurse who approached her for a small blood sample, with cutting her eyeballs out. Now, I have no hard evidence to support the claim that I did, in fact, make that threat to a female member of the medical profession, but I don't feel that I can honestly rule it out either. I'm just saying it's possible. And, if it turns out that it really did happen, that nurse is probably out of intensive psychotherapy and may well be living a reasonably contented life in some sort of halfway house with others who have suffered PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Hey, we all have our burdens to bear, right?

Here is another shot of my Daddy, before he was my Daddy, with my big sister, on a bucolic Sunday Morning - they were probably preparing to walk to church. Church didn't see much of me or my Mom following my birth - colic is a nasty business, I tell ya! Let's just say my Mom went on sabbatical. She probably needed a rest anyway, right? But for the ten years my sister was front and center, I'm sure they were fairly regular members - still doing the normal, happy family gig...but the clock was ticking and I was about to make my move.

Though I wasn't around when this photo was snapped, I do know that my Dad was no doubt exceptional and I'm sure Becky adored him just like I do. I think you can look at this photo and tell they were pretty comfortable in each other's company. Even though my sister was a real "girly girl", I have a feeling she probably didn't suffer fools and you can just tell when a child is with someone, if they are pleased to be there and I would say she looks pretty thrilled to have the guy to her left by her side. I'm sure the feeling was mutual.

And it looks like during the first ten years, my Dad and my sister enjoyed their own special time on the beach. To be honest, I'm glad that I waited until cars came equipped with air conditioning and that my parents finally realized that North Carolina had perfectly wonderful beaches and chose my favorite state for my first visit to the ocean. When I asked my Mom about the trip they took to Florida with my sister, she uses three words - "It Was HOT!!!!!". Then again, my mother declares that anything over 68 degrees qualifies for hot.

Neither of my parents were big beach fans but they instinctively knew my sister and later, I would be, and they took us to the ocean many times. Way back in the 1960's a trip to the beach from West Virginia (pre-Interstate), was a rather long, arduous journey indeed. All I know was that when I felt I was free and clear of the shadow cast by towering mountains, I felt like going toward the ocean was akin to going home. Mountains were never home to me. I don't care too much for anything that blocks the sky and infringes on the horizon. Besides, a life spent taking Dramamine to counter car sickness is no fun proposition.

But soon enough, my family's "salad days" were about to come to an abrupt end. On February 6th, 1960, life as they knew it was about to take a hairpin turn - you know, when Bette Davis says, "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night...". Understatement. Fortunately, I was warmly welcomed into the clan of Cook, and what a warm clan it proved to be. The photo at right is of my sister, my Daddy, my sister's friend who I believe is the daughter of the physician who brought me into this world, and the small one with the big mouth - that would be me. I think my Dad looks a bit shell-shocked, sort of a "deer in the headlights - oh gosh what do we do with this??"

I kind of wonder if they were having some sort of healing ceremony or practicing for my expected exorcism - as everyone seems to have a hand placed on my person. Maybe they were sticking me with pins which would account for the expression on my face? I don't know - to be honest, I can't remember a thing about that photo and I'm not even sure I granted permission for it to be taken. I wonder what the statute of limitations are on such a personal invasion of my privacy? Even at the tender age of 3 or so months, I was having to deal with the Paparazzi. Get over yourself, Britney. Grow up already.
And here is just another reason that I have the best Daddy in the world. The photo at left is so typical of my father and it captures the spirit of our relationship and offers a clue as to why I think the world of him. Even at the age of three, there was my Dad - trying to help me figure out a puzzle and working diligently along with me to see what the best solution is.

Interestingly enough, that's been the tone for my growing up years. When I am totally confused, which isn't a rare occurrence, and I wonder what the best course of action or perhaps, inaction, would be - I go to my Dad (and my Mom). It's not that I'm naive enough to believe that my Dad has all of the answers to every question I have posed, or will pose in the future, but the one thing I know for certain, is that he has never, in the 46 years of our association, been too busy to listen to me when I am completely befuddled.

Most of the time, I require nothing more than a sounding board because most of the hardest decisions we are asked to make, don't elude us in terms of answers. We (humans), usually know the answers because they're so readily apparent. The real kicker is trying to decide if we're willing to do what most of the time we know to be "the next right thing...". That's the part that becomes problematic. Right from wrong isn't really all that complicated - it's determining if we are up to the challenge set before us to make the right decision and act appropriately - and most times we are. It just makes life so much easier if there's someone there to validate the choices we are asked to make, to offer support and to remind us that we are equipped for the curve balls that life seems to hurl in our direction from time to time.

It is during these periods that having a Dad like I have, is an invaluable asset. I have gone to my Dad feeling so confused about something terrifying looming in my future, whether it's a chemistry test, a work decision, wondering if I am capable of writing on a topic that feels foreign and unfamiliar, wondering if the plane I'm getting ready to board for Paris will really arrive safe, or that scary morning I asked him if he thought I could successfully deal with a formidable addiction (and I'm not talking about Sudoku which I have no plans on giving up and entering a twelve-step program to address).

I went to my Dad with all of those things and though I walked in addled and so incredibly scared, after just a few minutes in his company, I came out knowing that I had the right stuff, and that I could face even the really hard steps ahead of me with stamina, determination and fortitude. It's hard to fail with that kind of support and I have learned that not everyone has such a familial situation. I also know that I did nothing to merit the parents I landed, but I am just beyond grateful that I did. As a nice bonus, my Dad seems to have the magic ability of lacing just about everything with gentle humor - because you really do have to learn to laugh, especially at yourself. It doesn't make things any less serious, it simply makes it all so much more palatable.

This is a snapshot of my Dad doing one of the many things that bring him complete and utter joy, which would make many of us snap pencils and accidentally slam that adding machine to the floor. My Dad LOVES numbers, so I guess you could say he's calculating! I don't know if this is a photo from when he worked in Madison or Welch, but I do know one thing, he was probably loving life because he had a pencil, a spreadsheet and an adding machine. That's my Dad's idea of Nirvana and hey, we all have our little quirks, right?

To this day, for reasons unknown to the rest of us, he records the high and low temperature of each day. Now, what he does with this data, I have no idea and I'd be willing to bet he probably doesn't do much with it but enter it in some super-secret, password protected weather charting Excel sheet on his beloved Dell Computer. But who cares? He just doesn't feel complete unless he has a pencil at the ready when goofy George Elliot reports the high and the low temps. Hey, there are worse habits, right? And from what I've read, we're all mildly OCD. I think it's kind of endearing. And weird. But mostly endearing.

Now, simply looking at this photograph of my Dad at a desk, or intently working on a wooden puzzle, or posing before going to church with my sister, might give you the idea that he's a very serious, thoughtful, introspective kind of guy, and to a degree, that's accurate - but there is another side to Barbe Cook that few outside his inner circle are privy to. One little known fact about my Dad is that he could have had a wildly successful modeling career. Even when he was in his late 50's, long before Madonna invited folks to "Strike a pose", my cutting-edge Dad was far ahead of his time. Every now and then, he will humor the family and slip into a few of his favorite patented GQ or Esquire worthy poses and allow us a few minutes of camera time but always before 6:00 PM - because things get a little serious the closer it gets to the weather report - he has to have that pencil poised to record that useless temperature statistic. :-) Go on Dad - Vogue...

And because we never know when the next unannounced photo-op might present itself, we never miss out on a chance to record living history and take (pot) shots of a man who has more fashion sense in his pinky than Austin "Danger" Powers has in his whole bloated body. So why not enjoy another view of the kind of entertainment we are exposed to on a frequent (but unpredictable!) basis.

Only the cutting edge figure that is my father, would brilliantly consider the avant garde possibility of wearing shorts on the outside of his pants. And remember, this was probably 25 years ago. The man is nothing short of a legend (and a few cards shy of a full deck with an elevator that doesn't go to the top floor!).

My Dad's progressive nature isn't merely limited to the world of fashion. When I was 19 years old, my family hosted my Sunday School Class for a weekend retreat up at our cabin near Summersville Lake.

Not the type to be stifled by a label, though technically we were American Baptists at the time, my father and my former Sunday School teacher, after the traditional bonfire, ghost-story telling, marshmallow melting, scripture reading portion of the evening, went on to expose our little group to different forms of religion. In this photo, I believe they are trying to make contact with circus freaks who have passed onto the other world.

A couple of my close friends quietly mentioned that even though it was 1979, psychotherapy had made great strides in the treatment for seriously unbalanced individuals of all ages. I'm not sure what their point was, but obviously my father felt that young people should feel free to explore things like Casper the Friendly, and maybe not-so-friendly, ghost. It was a demonstration that I don't think any of us could ever forget, though shortly after that weekend outing, most of those friends disappeared and were no longer permitted to associate with me - something about the occult and bad influences...some people are so sensitive when it comes to trying new things. I think one among our group was spotted at the airport in Charleston selling plastic flowers and sporting a shaved head and two of the males converted to Mormonism and went on a two year mission trip to parts unknown. It was really quite baffling. We kind of thought of it as just another rich, cultural experience and, given that we were residing in West Virginia at the time, those aren't too easy to come by.

Life wasn't all smooth at the Cook abode, and every now and then, particularly when we went to the cabin which was not equipped with Cable TV (this was in the dark ages when we sometimes reverted to using what was called "rabbit ears" which weren't really appendages formerly belonging to rabbits, but short antennas that never worked the way they were supposed to).
Everything would be going fine - Dad would take a walk out into the nearby woods, which bordered Carnifax Ferry State Park, and he'd come back, relaxed, telling us what kinds of tracks he saw and how many copperheads he nearly stepped on, and Mom would be busy in the kitchen preparing supper, just like home, and Dad would get this faraway look in his eyes and BAM!! He'd suddenly remember it was 6:00 and then he would run and turn the television on and grab his favorite pencil, only to realize that the reception on the TV wasn't such that it would lend to clearly hearing the high and low temperatures of the day. Fear would completely cast its long shadow across his normally sunny countenance, and after slapping, kicking and busting the TV with whatever blunt object happened to be available, he would gather up his belongings, toss a few things in a garbage sac, and in a small, sad voice ask my Mom if she could spare a couple of peanut butter sandwiches - announcing that he was running away until he found a home with a dependable antenna system or, better still, a house with cable.

Off he would trek, thumb poised in the air, looking like a really over-grown Opie Taylor, never realizing, direction-challenged guy that he was, that he was hitch-hiking toward Carnifax Ferry State Park which had no houses and, along with it, no cable-ready TV's. Around 9 or 10 o'clock (earlier if it was in late fall or winter), he'd stumble home and Mom would have his dinner warm and his diary open and one of us would burst into the room and announce that we just heard on the radio that it had been 74 and 52 or something like that, totally spouting off bogus numbers which Dad would quickly jot down in his diary. The look of peace that would cross his face let us know that all was right with our world. Sure it was useless and fabricated information, but it did the trick and our cozy cabin was happy once again. Little does my father know that many of the temperature stats so diligently and faithfully recorded in his little diary were pulled out of thin air and, should he have pressed us for just how thin the air was, we would make some elaborate calculation and tell him after punching in the elevation and barometric pressure, the air was X amount O2 saturated. Worked every time.

On a more serious note, and in the spirit that this day truly is about, I have to say that I could never have asked for, designed or imagined a better Dad and there's a good reason for that: There is no better Dad. We didn't even enter the guy in an official contest because it would have been completely unfair to the rest of the non-contenders. My Dad is exactly what God had in mind when he came up with the brilliant idea that the world would be a lot better with a truly wonderful, loving, understanding, compassionate, silly, kid-friendly, nonsensical, wise, adoring male known, in our language, as "Dad". I have met a lot of really fine men in my life who are exemplary Dads in their own right, but to be perfectly honest, no one has come close to the one I have been privileged to be in close proximity of for over 46 wonderful years, and I have the examples, the experiences, the countless events that had to try his patience, make him scratch his head, and maybe even once or twice wonder if my Mom had a really weird boyfriend around May of 1959. Thank goodness I resemble my Dad or she would have some serious explaining to do.

I think one reason I have gone head-to-head with a few people I've dated over the years, is due to the fact that, though teetotaler guy that he is - never having seen him "belly up to the bar", he has raised the bar in terms of the expectations I have of men and, having seen one just as close to perfect as they come, a lot of the people I've dated over the years have fallen woefully short of what I know is possible - needle in a haystack stuff for sure. Sometimes, I'm pretty sure they did break the mold when they created my Dad because it's not been my experience to run into a lot of people that I respect anywhere close to the level that I respect my Dad.

In terms of ethics, morals, selflessness, devotion to family and just sheer goodness, mild OCD notwithstanding, one Waitman Barbe Cook is a rare breed. I would place Fred Rogers in that category, from everything I have read and heard of him and maybe one or two other people come relatively close - I most certainly know one such gentleman in Nantes, France who bears an uncanny resemblance to my Dad in both appearance and sweet, gentle nature and is a fine and adored father of four beautiful children in his own right but, to be honest, such examples are rare.

I don't run into too many people of his stature. I wish that wasn't true, but I do know this much - he has given my son an incredible example in terms of what comprises a truly good person and any attempt at emulating my father - is a wise exercise, indeed.

When you can go 46 years and not witness any behavior that has remotely given you cause to step back and wonder just who a person is, or question his character, motives or wonder if that person is treating you fairly and truly does have your best interests at heart, that's pretty much a miracle and you just have to know, that when it comes time to go over the balance sheet of your life with St. Peter, that person you are blessed enough to call your Dad, won't have to spend much time explaining questionable actions.

Dad, thanks for being the real deal and the best father in the world. Mom, thanks for saying yes on the third date. You both are the living embodiment of what good parents are all about and I am certain that I speak for Becky when I say, we are two exceptionally blessed daughters.

Justin - pretty huge footsteps to follow - but you come from fine stock and I do believe you are equal to the task and if blogs still exist by the time you have kids old enough to type and a few years out to consider everything you did as a parent, I wouldn't be surprised if you heard the same accolades that are contained in this appreciation blog.

Happy Father's Day,



05 June 2006

The Value of Tenacity

"It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer."
Albert Einstein

It would be hard to top the fun I had with the PC Magazine Assignment, but life moves forward just like it's supposed to and I'm moving right along with it. You can only bask in the glow of your last assignment for so long, and then it's time to move on, learn more and write, write, write.

I love being on the cusp of summer. It's like having all of your shopping done a few days prior to Christmas (not that I'd know what that feels like). Summer is magic, wild Bohemian craziness, the intermingling of sunshine yellow and ocean blue, tall glasses of jasmine iced tea, listening to Vanessa's critique of who was sporting what on the beach and laughing at her animated play-by-play. Vanessa is more entertaining than most of the rides at Disney World and I swear her perfect, shiny teeth should come with a UV warning. Gosh I wish she would divulge what she brushes with but I love her so much that I manage to get past her perfect smile, though I still occasionally find myself grappling with dental envy. I try not to let it get in the way of our relationship, though by no means do I buy into her "I just use Cinnamon flavored Crest.". C'mon Vanessa, do I look that naive?

I look forward to the sun, the water, laying on the beach at night and scouring the sky for shooting stars. For me, it's the best season of the year, no question. I love the heat, the humidity, the sun, the storms and the veiled and not so veiled threat of distant tropical depressions and any good excuse to dive into the pool, never missing out on the opportunity to get wet and do a few weightless flips. I just love that. I've loved it for as long as I can remember loving anything.

The first time I met the ocean was in 1966 and I swear I can go back in the far recesses of my mind (and my mind has been on a few recesses) and recall just what it felt like to see something so huge, so expansive, so demanding of my senses. The smell, the salty tinge of the air, the sound of the constant rhythmic pounding of the waves against the sand and just looking as far as my six year old eyes could take in and seeing nothing but sky and water. No obtrusive mountains to block the view, no trees to clutter the fine line between sea and sky; To a little girl accustomed to having to crane my neck to see the sunshine, it was so much better to only look out, rather than up, to see the sky. And all that water...so much wonderful, pulsing water. Forty years ago I didn't think it could get much better than that. Forty years later, I still don't think it could possibly get any better than being in close proximity to a beach. I fell in love with the ocean at Wrightville Beach and I live only a few miles from there now and the only way it could possibly be better than it is, would be to have a beachfront house and 24/7 access. Maybe some day...

Maybe some day...doesn't it always feel like it's all going to happen "some day"? I used to wish that "some day" was a finite point on the calendar so I could at least narrow the elusive "some day" down, but someday is far too fluid for that. "Someday" is a lot like the ocean, always changing, never allowing itself to be committed to a particular time or date. I imagine that for as long as I live, I will always have a few "some days" to look forward to which is a good thing. Everyone needs something, hopefully several things, to look forward to and dream about.

But I'm not interested in simply dreaming of stuff. I want to realize a few of those "some days" and at 46, the sands in my hourglass sure do seem to accelerate with each passing season, which spills over into another passing year. I'm not satisfied with only looking ahead - at some point, I'd actually like to be "ahead". I'm not close to being there yet.

I had planned on winding up things at my present "day job" by the middle of the June and goodness knows I was looking forward to some extra writing time, but that's not happening...yet. I hated Economics class and it's still causing me problems long after I left West Virginia Tech.

"Clouds in my coffee..."

You know how it feels to hear the pilot report, "OK folks, we're fourth in line for take-off so it should only be just a few minutes before we hit cruising altitude" and you look forward to the climb above the turbulence of those frothy white clouds and whatever foul weather might be standing between earth and smooth air? I love that moment - knowing that pretty soon I'll be aloft and flying somewhere that will open my life up to new adventures, new contacts, new memories and probably lost luggage!! I've always thought that take-off is the best ride going. I much prefer take-offs to landings because that means part of the magic is finished and sure, you have to land eventually, but is there anything better than soaring through the sky? I don't think so. My daughter might take exception with me, but I can't imagine ever getting enough of it or losing my sense of awe that flying is even possible.

Perhaps by no small coincidence, take-off is one of the two most critical and dangerous parts of any flight. If you consider that a really large, lumbering and heavy aluminum tube is preparing to lift off and stretch a serious gravitational pull, and that the machinery that you are relying on is dependent on a whole litany of things that must go down before you can possibly go up, not to mention that said machinery is man-made which lends itself to infinite possibilities for error - well, if you were to focus on that for very long, you'd probably bolt out of your seat before the last passenger was on board and head for the nearest ticket counter, demanding a refund so you could buy an earthbound horse because falling from a horse, with a few exceptions, couldn't be nearly as painful as falling three miles out of the sky should something monkey with the aircraft machinery. I'm certain my daughter would most definitely opt for the horse, relinquishing all of the speed and altitude in favor of an occasional gallop.

But when it works the way it's designed to work, it truly is nothing short of the purest form of poetry. And if you find yourself on that airplane, baggage checked and buckled up, you are probably betting that things will go fine and you will have happy landings, and the odds are in your favor, no question.

If I were ever given the opportunity to spend an hour picking the brains of a significant historical figure(s), there's no question that Orville and Wilbur Wright are at the top of my list. I am fascinated by them and not simply because they shared my passion for the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Jockey's Ridge and all things aviation.

On particularly daunting and difficult days (and who doesn't deal with a few of those?), I always wonder to myself how many glitches Orville and Wilbur had to contend with before their crude aircraft ever left the ground? How many times did they have to go back to the drawing board? Were they ever tempted to just throw in the towel and say, "This is crazy! Obviously this stupid contraption weighs too much and there's no way it's going to work and it's nothing short of pure insanity to believe this flying machine will ever work. Can you believe how much time we have devoted to this and something always crops up to bring us down? Let's forget about this business and stick with kites."

Sometimes I wonder, how did they deal with setbacks, disappointments, what had to be so much trial and error, not to mention pokes, jabs and smarmy sneers from those around them who no doubt thought they had a screw or two or three missing to even ponder such a thing? Were there days when they woke up and wondered why they were even bothering at all? Did the concept of "take-off" ever feel like an impossibility? What was the source of their fortitude? Whatever it was, couldn't they have bottled it along with learning how to fly an airplane?

I don't like dress rehearsals, or window shopping and I don't generally enjoy rewrites.

{Deadlines are problematic for me - I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines: My distaste of the pressure they create when I am working precariously close to missing a deadline is only eclipsed by the vacant and unwanted feeling I experience when I don't have one at all. Figure that one out and get back to me!}

I can't commit to fiction because it's borne from someone's mind, I argue. It's not fact-based. Sometimes I feel as if my brain is at war with itself - the logic crashes "head-on" (pun intended) into imagination and my thoughts become muddy. This love of logic might explain my fascination with and the comfort I feel when engaged in a reasonably challenging Sudoku Puzzle. It is logical. Choices are made based on the data provided and not whimsy, a wild hunch or the mercurial quality of intuition, as is often the case when I set out to work a crossword puzzle. For some reason, logic makes me feel safer. There's an implied dependability about logic. Something to fall back on - no wrangling with the unpredictable nature of fluidity. It's a black and white sort of thing and logic doesn't dabble in gray areas.

But then I realize that it's illogical to discount the necessary and essential influence of imagination. The Wright Brothers couldn't have created a blueprint containing concrete calculations without the dream of flight, an ability that had been previously assigned to birds and bees and the occasional flying fish, which I personally don't think of as flying but more of flailing. Flailing is probably what those first hundred or so crude attempts probably looked like to the casual, amused observer. So much flailing. And crashing. Probably a lot more crashing than we realize. But it had to be the understated quotient of imagination that spawned the tenacity, which ultimately paved the runway to success, right?

I always contend that fiction doesn't interest me at all, but in truth, nothing would be factual without it. It is only in the incorporation of the pair from which singular flights of fancy reach cruising altitude and escape all of that turbulent air, ever in search of a smooth ride. I suspect that smooth rides are almost always the result of a generous dollop of turbulence, otherwise, how would one ever know what constituted smooth?

And it is the irrefutable notion of tenacity that I now need more than ever. I had plans and because of a university course that I absolutely hated, I have had to scrap those "best-laid plans", and find my way to the place I would like to arrive, "some day". And my "some day" feels a little more unreachable because of it - pesky mortgage companies that insist on being fed monthly, car payments, cell phone bills, dental visits...you know, bank account depleting, headache-producing, minor annoying life stuff.

Those are facts I don't care for, but they are also facts dictated by reality and the economic fact of the matter is that writing is about as mercurial and unpredictable as Cumulonimbus clouds. You write something, it's accepted, it's published and you will get paid...several weeks from now, long after it's shelf life has been spent and new covers of magazines have replaced the cover of the magazine your story or article graced. And yes, you take those smaller, regional writing jobs that suddenly don't feel nearly as interesting or pay as handsomely as the nice, shiny national ones, and you must force yourself to remember how much you once would have given your right arm to have snagged. And then you need to focus on the much too easily forgotten entity known as gratitude, even as you still hope for bigger fish swimming amongst the minnows you find yourself surrounded by which are probably using you to hide behind because a bull shark is in the vicinity.

What can you do? You present new bait which takes the form of more writing and you go right back out there and you fish some more, always hoping for fair weather and agreeable moon phases - checked frequently in the Farmer's Almanac you buy every single year for no other reason than it reminds you of your wonderful grandmother who swore by the thing. After all, writing submissions are just another form of planting and neither comes with a guarantee.

And now that I've gotten all THAT out of my system, it's time to find the right words for a piece I've been assigned to write, which is probably prudent since it's due TODAY - no, it's not exactly my idea of a hot assignment and it doesn't honestly pique my curiosity, but it's what I've got for today and it merits nothing less than my best effort. After that's taken care of, I'm going to search out that biography I never finished reading on the life and times of the Wright Brothers and maybe I'll remember the potent value and potential rewards of staying the course, realizing it would be foolish to give up five minutes before the miracle...Oh, and a wish for wings that work...

Who knows, maybe by fall I can escape the insanity that is Vida. I dearly hope I am not forced to run away to New York City like some people I know, in order to snag a farewell luncheon! Some people just live to push the envelope, eh Katie? :-)